Monday, June 24, 2013

What I read in May

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. Non-fiction, on the morality and practicalities of raising, killing, and eating animals. The book is primarily an argument against factory farming, and in that capacity it succeeds. I think this is less because the book is well-argued and more because factory farming is such an easy target. There are some striking passages, however. For example: Foer relates the (near science-fictional) account of his night break-in to a turkey farm to provide the chicks--which are only fed, watered, and medicated only enough to prevent general death--with food and water. He finds that the farm is a locked warehouse, the floor covered with densely-packed chickens suffering from all manner of deformities and ailments. His partner, the animal activist who let him tag along, mercy-kills a chick she finds which is beyond help.

In the end Foer concludes that eating animals can be moral, so long as the animals we kill and eat have good and happy lives. Note that this standard, that the lives of eaten animals be good and happy, is a step beyond the criteria that their lives not be inhumane.

I read the book because I thought I'd find something about the philosophy of eating animals, but I didn't. What I found was more about the morality of raising animals, and a call to action for people to stop purchasing factory farmed meat. Even so, I found myself agreeing with the general bent of the ideas in the book, which, generally, spring from a desire to treat animals compassionately.

Jagannath by Karen Tidbeck. A collection of very weird short stories. I felt the stories were kind of slight after reading my first few of them--that there wasn't enough in them to really make them worth my while. By the time I'd finished all of them, I felt differently. The stories have stuck with me, especially their settings, and their feel. Tidbeck is really good at evoking the feeling that something strange and wonderful and frightening is happening, just beyond knowing, especially in stories like "Pyret", "Brita's Holiday Village", and "Reindeer Mountain".

I think I missed how good the first few stories were because of the prose. The prose is clear and simple; something like the opposite of Cathrynne M. Valente. Even though I know better, sometimes I get caught up in how complicated the prose is as a measure of how good the writing is, when I know that (usually) the opposite is true--complicated writing makes stories worse, not better. Really, Tidbeck's prose is one of Jagannath's best attributes. The tones, settings, and characters of the stories are never obscured by overwriting.

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